The “Star-Spangled Banner” is a staple of pregame sports festivities across the country, but at Indiana’s Goshen College the national anthem hasn’t been so proudly hailed.
On Tuesday, however, the 1,000-student Mennonite school - responding to criticism over the anthem’s omission at sporting events - decided for the first time since 1957 to play the song before baseball and softball games.
The problem, before Tuesday, was that the song is about war and asserts a staunch allegiance to country – both troubling to the historically peaceful Mennonites who frown on putting anything before their relationship with God.
“At Goshen College, our entire learning process is framed by a commitment to address complex problems, no matter the discipline, and to do so with academic rigor and civility,” college President Jim Brenneman said in a statement. “Playing the national anthem or not before our games is one such complex issue for us.”
According to a November 2008 article on Mennonite.org, the college received hundreds of calls and e-mails after a conservative talk show host criticized the school’s policy.
Brenneman said school administrators changed their mind after considering the college’s student body, which has a variety of opinions on the issue – ranging from none at all, to pacifist views, to “students whose relatives served in the military and who are proud to fly the U.S. flag in honor of their service.”
"The freedom that the flag has given us allows us to be here. It allows us to do these kinds of things and to be at this school. It allows us to do what we can do here in the country," Taylor TenHarmsel, a junior who came to Tuesday's baseball game painted in red, white and blue, told CNN affiliate WSBT.
The school also had to consider that its student body includes students from several Christian denominations, not just Mennonites. (See a variety of opinions, facebook groups and editorials on the issue on the college's site)
Before Goshen’s doubleheader baseball game with Siena Heights University and later in the afternoon, prior to the softball doubleheader against St. Joseph’s College, the university played the anthem – sans words - for the first time since its inception in 1894 (intercollegiate sports began at Goshen 53 years ago).
St. Francis of Assisi’s peace prayer was read following the instrumental version of the anthem.
Mennonite Church USA, which boasts 109,000 members in 44 states, has no official prohibition on the playing the song. Some Mennonite schools play it; others do not.
The Indianapolis Star reported that most of the 100 fans in the stands stood for the anthem and about a dozen remained seated. Students with a group calling itself the Jesus Radicals wore black and painted crosses on their foreheads. They told the newspaper they were “mourning.”
Jesusradicals.com, which claims to explore the connections between anarchism and Christianity, called the move an “act of cowardice,” likening the anthem to a golden calf - a biblical reference to a false idol.
The school’s president contends, though, that it is important to consider diverging viewpoints.
“Students, faculty/staff, alumni and others have come to today's games with different opinions, different faith understandings and different convictions,” Brenneman wrote. “And I thank God for that, because I believe at the heart of making peace in this country — and in the world — is our ability to listen to each other and respect each other’s views.”